Covid Chronicle, 1st April – by Caroline Utting

I wrote this when I heard Evan Davis on BBC Radio 4 PM Programme ask for contributions to Covid Chronicles.

The queue outside the pharmacy is straggled across the marketplace. People seemingly oddly dotted about, quiet and patient. No one questions “why” now. One in, one out. 

A customer stands in the doorway of the organic grocery shop, inside is a tangle of boxed orders waiting for collection or delivery. So much crammed into a small space, the owner has an obstacle course to negotiate to get to the counter. “Don’t come in, we’ll pass it out to you.” The box is placed on the pavement and its contents, bread flour, fresh dates, eggs, whole wheat spaghetti and cans of chickpeas are decanted into bags for the walk home.

The winding, climbing streets of Ross-on-Wye are uncharacteristically quiet, like all towns and high streets now. You can walk down the middle of the road if you want and no one will comment.

This was going to be a very special year for the town that calls itself the Birthplace of British Tourism. A steering group had been working for 2 years on a programme of events to draw people to it. Instead the hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs fell silent in a matter of days of the first event being cancelled.

Instead of the community coming together to put on walks and talks, exhibitions and performances, it has come together to fetch prescriptions, deliver groceries and phone the isolated. The Community Development Trust, in its infancy, is now front and centre of the effort. The Mayor’s project suddenly thrown into focus and vitally important. The volunteers have come thick and fast.

“Gilpin 2020” was to have marked the 250th anniversary of a visit made to a town known simply as Ross back then. The Rev. William Gilpin came to take the Wye Valley Tour at the recommendation of a friend. It was a phenomenon with its roots in the 1740’s when the very well-connected vicar of Ross, John Egerton, later Bishop of Durham, commissioned the building of a special pleasure boat, to entertain his society friends on the river and took them on trips from Ross to Monmouth. Gilpin was so impressed by his visit and what he saw that he went on to publish a guidebook to the area, thought to be the first of its kind, describing its Picturesque qualities and recommending them to all. Over the following years many artists and writers were drawn to the Wye Valley to enjoy and be inspired by its stunning scenery. It is hoped to rescue some of the planned events with Gilpin 2020+1. The Wye Valley is still as beautiful and perhaps deserves a break after the flooding that so badly affected it earlier this year.

One thought on “Covid Chronicle, 1st April – by Caroline Utting

  1. An enjoyable and informative piece, Caroline. I imagine John Gilpin’s guide has been reprinted since then so will look out for it. The whole thing links so well with our current situation.


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